37 years of delayed hospital discharges in the last 12 months

Antrim Area Hospital. AT5-312JC
Antrim Area Hospital. AT5-312JC

Almost 14,000 days have been lost in the last year due to delayed discharges of patients from hospitals in the Northern Trust.

This means that from April 2015 to March 2016 had 37.4 years of delayed transfers from hospitals in this region.

Figures disclosed by the Department of Health said that a total of 13,655 extra days had been needed due to delays, leading inevitably to an increase of ‘bed-blocking’.

Auditors from the National Audit Office (NAO) estimate that around 85% of delayed transfers of care are for patients aged 65 or older.

At Antrim Area Hospital alone there were 9,712 days delay in discharges.

“The number of patients discharged from hospital has increased in line with the increased volume of attendances at the Emergency Department,” said a spokesperson for the Northern Trust, which covers Antrim, Causeway, Mid Ulster and Whiteabbey hospitals.

“Antrim Area Hospital provided in the region of 137,500 bed days last year with delays accounting for seven per cent of these.

“There are a variety of reasons why a patient may be delayed in being discharged. Reasons include awaiting specialist equipment, awaiting private nursing home assessment, the ability to secure a home care package from a provider or, in cases where placement in a home or other setting is required, delays can be due to patient choice.

“Trust staff, both in the community and the hospital setting, work with considerable effort to minimise delays. From the moment a patient is admitted to hospital, staff will begin to plan their discharge to ensure that all necessary support, medication and care needs are addressed and planned for and any unnecessary delays are avoided.

“Services are continually being developed to assist with discharges. Measures introduced include a discharge lounge, seven day working for allied health professionals and pharmacists, a reablement team to allow for prompter discharge, a Hospital Diversion Nursing Team and, more recently, the introduction of Community Discharge Co-ordinators in Antrim Area Hospital and a Rapid Response Domiciliary Care service.

“The Trust is also working with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) to provide alternative pathways for patients, where appropriate, rather than admission to hospital.”

Just over 4,000 days were lost in delays in the Southern Trust, primarily at Craigavon Area Hospital.

A Southern Trust spokesperson said: “The Southern Trust has the shortest average length of hospital stay of any Trust in Northern Ireland (average stay of 4.9 days in 2014/15).

“Our staff work hard to ensure that patients do not stay in hospital longer than necessary and we have a number of systems in place (eg twice daily patient flow meetings, an escalation system etc) to keep any delays to a minimum.

“However, our absolute priority is to ensure that all patients are discharged safely which does mean that some patients may need to stay a bit longer than expected to ensure that the full support they need is available at home or in the community.

“Waiting on appropriate transport, equipment or pharmacy items may cause delays to discharges. Putting in place arrangements for community support or nursing home admission can also delay patient discharges.”

The South-Eastern Trust had the highest number of days lost due to delayed discharges with 20,623 in the last year.

This was principally due to the 17,124 days lost at the Ulster Hospital.